Ateneo gets just 3 days rest before facing UP team Baldwin admires most
From one knockout match to another, Ateneo will work much harder than it has ever done the entire year to keep on playing in Season 86 of the UAAP men’s basketball tournament.
That’s because Tab Baldwin knows the circumstances have just gotten tougher for his Blue Eagles, definitely a few notches up there compared to a 70-48 victory over Adamson Wednesday afternoon that had them making the Final Four via the back door at Mall of Asia Arena.
“We know we’re going up against a real top team, we’re gonna have to see if we can pull some rabbits out of our hat,” Baldwin said, referring to their coming matchup with elimination round topnotcher University of the Philippines (UP) on Saturday where the Fighting Maroons have two chances to advance.
Also advancing to another knockout match was women’s No. 3 UP, which survived University of Santo Tomas, 88-80, in overtime with Louna Ozar leading a comeback from 20 points down with a performance to remember in overtime.
They square off for the last time also on Saturday for the right to face National U, which made the title series for the eighth straight season after a 58-43 win over Ateneo in the other Final Four pairing.
Ozar scored six points in extension, which was forged at 72-all. The Filipino-French guard finished with 25 points and led three other Maroons in twin digits.
“It’s win or go home,” Baldwin went on. “You’re (going to face) a really strong UP team who’s rested.”
The KO game for No. 4 ended in a ho-hum way after the Blue Eagle flew out of the gates hard to win in wire-to-wire style.
‘A very clever guy’
And Baldwin has no disillusions that the Maroons will be as easy pickings.
“We’re definitely the underdog. I don’t relish it, UP won’t take us lightly. They’re too professional, too intelligent and Gold [Monteverde] is a very clever guy,” Baldwin said. “He’s got the most professional group of guards that you’d ever hope to have.”
Ateneo and UP have split their elimination round clashes, with both games going down the wire. But the form of late is what made the difference for the Maroons in topping the eliminations.
Both schools disputed the championship the last two seasons, so this latest version of the ‘Battle for Katipunan’ comes a lot earlier than anyone expected.
And Baldwin got his charges playing the way he wanted against the Soaring Falcons, who came into the game entertaining hopes of duplicating a similar escape act last season against La Salle.
Adamson, though, ran into a brick wall right from the get-go and never really had a chance.
“It’s about preparation, it’s gonna be three solid days of trying to be smart,” Baldwin said after getting 20 points from point guard Jared Brown on a 57.1 field goal percentage.
Sean Quitevis contributed 11 points and Mason Amos 10 for Ateneo, which outrebounded Adamson, 53-35, with 16 coming from Joe Obasa.
Ateneo led all the way thanks to its starters contributing 52 points. Towards the end, the Blue Eagles even had a 25-point advantage, with no Falcon even reaching double-digit scores.
Going out in style
The final score was closer because of an admirable Ateneo gesture in the dying seconds when rookie Kyle Gamber gave possession to graduating Falcon Jerom Lastimosa and gave the injured star the chance to close out his collegiate career in style with a three-pointer.
Nursing a left ACL tear, Lastimosa was given the chance to play the final two or so minutes and got the freebie from Gamber, something that made the game, especially for the Adamson faithful.
“I think Jerom has been a wonderful servant of UAAP basketball and Philippine basketball in general. And, you know, when you have a 20-point lead, who cares about three points, if we can make a gesture to a guy that maybe saying is iconic is a bit much but, currently, he’s iconic of outstanding players that the UAAP has generated,” said Baldwin.
An emotional Lastimosa proudly joined his teammates in singing their alma mater hymn after the loss.